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Licensing renewable energy should be simplified and made more efficient

​The processing of licenses for the development of renewable energy takes very long. Many cases await active processing for a long time, and the accumulation of cases waiting to be processed has risen. - With a view to improving conditions for more production of renewable energy in Norway, licensing and case processing should be made more efficient, says Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss.

Published 1/14/2014 11:00 AM

Document 3:5 (2013–2014) The Office of the Auditor General’s investigation of efficiency in renewable energy licensing was submitted to the Storting on 14 January 2014.

The audit shows that processing license applications for small-scale power stations on average takes three and a half years, while processing applications for larger wind power station licenses takes five and a half years. If an appeal is filed, the licensing is prolonged by a further two years. In cases involving large hydropower stations, licensing can take seven and a half years. Wind power licenses often take up to eleven years, including processing the report, application and appeal.

- While the processing capacity has risen, so has the number of applications and of cases waiting to be processed, concludes Foss.

Governance signals need to be less ambiguous, says the Office of the Auditor General. The audit has revealed that Norwegian authorities have failed to clearly set out how much renewable energy should be promoted, and there is uncertainty as to how energy-related objectives should be balanced against objectives relating to other sectors. Nor have the governance instruments worked as intended.

Well-defined governance is an important premise for efficiency, and it is hoped that this will promote predictable licensing. Both the government administration and industry have asked for more clear-cut governance signals to allow them to focus on the most realistic projects, notes Foss.

The Office of the Auditor General observes that there is room for improvement in the national guidelines, and that regional plans for wind power and small-scale power stations can be used more effectively. Early rejection of unrealistic license applications is also likely to enhance overall processing efficiency.

The investigation carried out by the Office of the Auditor General has shown that basic knowledge on, among other things, biological diversity, cultural artefacts and reindeer husbandry is inadequate. In addition, following the introduction of a new Planning and Building Act, and of the Nature Diversity Act, there is uncertainty regarding when and how to carry out impact assessments on central areas.

- The national guidelines must be developed so as to clarify impact assessment requirements, and to bring them in line with the applicable rules and regulations. Currently there is too much room for discussion in individual cases. This results in a higher level of conflict, and makes processes less efficient. Well-defined requirements will also make it easier for the NVE to quality-assure applications and avoid supplementary impact assessments, observes Foss.

The Office of the Auditor General also believes that conflict could be reduced through more dialogue between sector authorities and developers early on in the licensing process. In addition, there is uncertainty as to how consultations and objections should be handled in practice so as to balance different considerations.

- Sound processes that ensure that development is in line with the existing body of knowledge is important. Such processes also need to take into account potential conflicts. In addition, such processes can help reduce the number of appeals and modifications to plans, stresses Foss.

The inadequate grid capacity also slows down licensing and development of renewable energy, concludes the Office of the Auditor General.

The fact that the NVE has focused on greater co-ordination of grid and power development is good news. In the long term this will promote efficient licensing procedures, and ensure that more licenses see the light of day through the electricity certificate scheme, says Auditor General Foss.

In his reply, the Minister of Petroleum and Energy states that the Office of the Auditor General has identified pertinent issues in the licensing process, and that the report will aid the authorities’ work to simplify licensing procedures, making them more efficient.

The deferral of public access to documents prepared by or for the Office of the Auditor General in connection with Document 3:5 (2013-2014), cf. the Act relating to the Office of the Auditor General section 18 second paragraph, is hereby set aside.

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